After 508 Days, Finally an Israeli Government - My Thoughts. [And How You Too Can Become a Minister]
Updated: May 31
One of my least favorite things to do as a tour guide of Israel is to discuss politics. Since almost everything in Israel revolves around politics, however, it's pretty hard to avoid. As such, since I know many of you might have questions about this new government, here are my takes on it. And I think, as usual, you will find me square in the middle of the "average Israeli" camp.
1) In short: It's nice to finally have a government. Just not in this way. Sadly, this is normally where we would be talking about the first Ethiopian-Jewish and the first Haredi (ultra-orthodox) female ministers. Wonderful to see glass ceilings broken. And yet the shattering sound around Israel is one of broken dreams, like breaking a glass at a divorce proceedings as opposed to at a marriage. This is a marriage, one between Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party and the remains of what was Benny Gantz's Blue & White party (plus the 2 Haredi parties and individuals from 4 other parties), which all of us know will come to an end whenever it becomes convenient.
2) It would be really nice if our elected officials actually remembered that they serve us, not the opposite. In a time when 27% of the workforce is unemployed, in order to have a "unity government," they ignored the Basic Law limiting the government to 18 ministers (which has been ignored before, just never like this) and created 36 ministers and 16 deputy ministers. Each minister with his/her office, security detail, 8 aides (as opposed to 3 for regular members of parliament), two drivers, etc. It adds at least an extra 85 million shekels (about $25 million) per year to the budget from the previous over-bloated government and that is a conservative estimate. Ministers also get higher pay (60,000 NIS more per year than regular members of Parliament), taxpayer funded global trips (when again possible) and more. We have a new role of "alternate Prime Minister" who will get his own official residence, four offices, extra security detail and much more. Of course this all cheaper than having new elections (some 600 million shekels for the elections and 1 billion for lost economic output due to the election holiday) but that does not excuse it.
3) This also has a number of both short-term and long-term effects: It ripped apart agencies and programs from ministries in stupid ways (though sometimes creating a new ministry is a good thing, like when the tourism ministry was created out of the Ministry of Trade and Industry in 1964). It created nonsensical combinations of programs (higher education and water?). It put people in positions with no expertise in any of the positions and then has them reshuffling around in 18 months (when the 2 main parties switch roles according to the agreement), not allowing the new minister to have any chance of really knowing what his/her department actually does. Since ministers do not have to be present in the Knesset or deal with actual legislation, taking 52 of the 120 people out of the Knesset is going to make filling committees and doing actual lawmaking - the real grunt-work of politics - hard to actually accomplish. One is even switching after 3 months! All of this to serve various politicians' egos and avarice and for loyalists to be rewarded and opponents shunned or banished. The biggest issue is that Israelis more than anything hate to be "freiers" (suckers). This may turn off a huge section of the people to politics/voting/etc.
4) The emergency we are dealing with is the coronavirus, yet we actually now will have more ministers and deputy ministers in the country than we have people intubated due to the virus. The real emergency know is to figure out how to proceed to rebuild the economy after this shutdown - obviously, in the most safe way possible - so this giant waste of money is of course antithetical at best, offensive in reality and criminal at worst. On a personal level, as someone who has yet to have seen a shekel in unemployment, it is hard to swallow.
5) Netanyahu actually gave a date when he will leave the PM job - on November 17, 2021 - to be filled by Benny Gantz for the next 2 years, with Netanyahu in line to come back for the final 6 months if both parties agree (i.e. if he hasn't been convicted of the 3 current bribery charges on which he has been indicted and for which he is about to stand trial). Now that the country is starting to open up, there is no reason for Netanyahu's trials not to begin (they were delayed to the virus outbreak). Watching our sitting PM sit as a defendant in court will be a new indignity for the country to endure. How it will affect the agreement between the main parties is yet to be seen. How it will affect the PM's ability to do his job, well that is abundantly clear, as Netanyahu himself said when a former PM, Ehud Olmert was under investigation - not yet even indicted [Olmert had the decency of resigning before he was indicted]. “A prime minister steeped up to his neck in investigations doesn’t have a moral or public mandate to make such fateful decisions regarding the state of Israel," Netanyahu said at the time. And yet here we are with a sitting PM about to go on trial and this entire charade of 3 elections and fake "unity" government engineered to protect him. This is not to say that Netanyahu does not have his successes or strong points - he wouldn't be the longest-serving ever Israeli PM without them (that and being the most incredible political animal our country has ever known - this guy would kill it on Survivor). But our entire country's democratic system is about to get tested in a way we have never experienced. What the ramifications of that will be in the short and long-term have yet to be seen (not to mention seeing if Gantz or anyone else can actually fill Netanyahu's shoes if and when that day does come).
6. The best thing about all of this has been the response of the Israeli public. We are known to have a penchant for dark humor. Perhaps it is the only way to push through after a history of expulsions, massacres, pogroms, Holocaust, wars, terror, etc. We turn to humor when the chips are down. So already, a website has been created to allow you too to become an Israeli governmental minister. That's right.
Whether you want to be the Minister of Sleep-In Shabbat/Sundays, the Minister of Shakshuka or the Minister of Unasked Opinion-Giving, you can create your own official certificate at ministerof.com. Just fill in the top blank with your name (in any language) and the bottom one with your title (it already says minister of, so just say "Epic Potty-Training Fails" or whatever title you desire). As for the photo here - well I am the Minister of Knowledge of the Whereabouts of the Closest Bathroom. Basically, my primary job as a tour guide... Have fun and welcome to the Israeli government!